Working Out And Nutrition While Sick

New Year, New…Flu?

Well, ’tis the season to feel like crap apparently. Four days into the new year and I found myself waking up to chest and nasal congestion, a lung-hacking painful cough, no energy, minor sore throat and no voice. Awesome.

Almost simultaneously, the other part of my brain was thinking:

To Train or Not to Train?

What should I do with my workouts?

What should I do with my nutrition?


In regards to workouts, if you have come down with something, say a head cold– you’re sniffling, maybe a headache, some nasal congestion, maybe a cough. These conditions generally tend to be worse in the morning and evening, but a little more mild during the day. The research looking at this shows that working out can enhance the immune response to the bacteria/virus/infection and maybe help you get over it a little faster. However, you wouldn’t want to do an all-out, taxing training session.

The best idea would probably be to go at 70-80% of your normal effort. This has been shown to increase the immune response to fighting off the infection, without being so taxing to the point where it drains your ability to fight the infection.

However, if you are actually running a fever over 99-100 degrees, have body shakes, shivering, or a severe headache, you’ll probably be better off taking the time to rest and recover.

If you go in and train, it’s going to take away energy that you need to fight that infection.

Immune Response

The fact that your body is running a fever is a clear indicator that your body is mounting an inflammatory immune counter attack to fight off this infection.

Inflammation many times is seen as a bad thing, but in terms of fighting infection in the short term, inflammation is a good thing. The body is trying to rid itself of that virus or bacteria. In this situation, definitely DO NOT workout. Rest is the name of the game here. Rest as much as you can in this situation because that is what’s going to help you get over it faster.

When you are having this inflammation response, your liver is producing cytokines as well as antigens. Cytokines are proteins involved in the inflammatory process. This entire immune response actually requires energy which is why you don’t have any when when you’re sick!

So how much to eat if you’re not training?

Your body is likely expending more energy because your body temperature is higher and your body is in a state of producing all these different proteins.

The research seems to indicate for every degree above normal (98.6F or 37C) you should add about 7% calories.

What if you’re on a fat loss diet? Should you continue your diet even while sick?

You can, BUT with the understanding that it may slightly negatively impede your recovery due to lower calorie (energy) intake.

What if you’re on a muscle gain diet? Should you continue in a caloric surplus?

You probably could and be fine if your surplus isn’t excessive. You might be a little less likely to store body fat because you’re expending so much energy. But on the other hand, since you’re not training it’s still possible to store a little extra body fat.

So, between fat loss and muscle gain diets, just understand the pros and cons to each.

Best option: take the middle of the road. Eat at maintenance calories.

I.E: If running a fever, whatever your maintanence calories are, set them there and add 7% calories for every one degree Fahrenheit above normal your body temperature is. This is simply to maintain body weight so that your body isn’t storing extra body fat, but also ensures the body has enough calories to fight the infection and give your body the best chance to recover.

This is just a suggestion. That doesn’t mean you have to do this.


If you can’t train, don’t stress it.

Sometimes it’s better to live to fight another day and take a day off. You’ll have more mental clarity going into a training session, be at less risk for injury, feel more rejuvenated, and be able to produce a much more productive training session.

During your down time maximize rest. Take naps. Stay hydrated or even increase water and greens intake.

The best thing you could do is try not to be around people who are sick, wash your hands often (especially before leaving the gym), get adequate sleep, and don’t get sick in the first place!

At the end of the day, you have to make the decision. If you feel like you can train, great. Keep it short and sweet. If you feel like your recovery might be compromised, then maybe a rest day might be the better option.

Stay Healthy my Friends!!


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